Nearly two centuries ago, a distinguished member of Britain’s House of Commons unwittingly made a remark that much of the opposition in the Knesset would do well to ponder.
In a speech to Parliament on April 10, 1826, on the rather dull subject of “Salary to the president of the Board of Trade,” the Right Honorable Sir John Hobhouse is credited with having coined the term “loyal opposition.”
Truth be told, he did not actually use that wording, instead referring to “His Majesty’s Opposition,” which according to the parliamentary record, elicited a laugh from his colleagues.
But the linkage he created between those in power and their opponents proved to be so compelling that it overcame initial scorn to become a staple of parliamentary democracies worldwide, regardless of whether they were constitutional monarchies or republics.
What is the true job of the opposition and why don't Israeli lawmakers do it?
Simply put, while the task of the opposition is to oppose the policies of the ruling coalition with vigor, it is expected to do so within the realm of reason while remaining loyal to the institutions and bodies of government.
Sadly, this key insight seems to have escaped many in Israel’s current opposition, which seems hell-bent on sinking to new lows in its efforts to combat the proposed reform of the judicial system.
Take, for example, the despicable statement made this past Monday by Yesh Atid’s Ram Ben Barak. Speaking from the podium at the Knesset, the former deputy director of the Mossad compared Israel’s current government to Adolf Hitler’s regime, stating that “In Nazi Germany, too, they also rose to power in a democratic fashion.”
“In Nazi Germany, too, they also rose to power in a democratic fashion.”Ram Ben Barak
After his imbecilic assertion caused an uproar, Ben Barak chose to double down, going onto Twitter to repeat his outrageous slander.
Does he really think that those who want to alter the makeup of the committee that selects Israel’s judges are equivalent to the goose-stepping, Sieg Heil-saluting murderers who slaughtered six million of our people?
As if that weren’t enough inanity for one day, MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu) decided to introduce outright racism to the debate, saying in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, “There sits a dictator, and you are his servants. Why did you bother to come here from Morocco? To exchange one king for another?”
“There sits a dictator, and you are his servants. Why did you bother to come here from Morocco? To exchange one king for another?”Yulia Malinovsky
This is the kind of trash talk one might expect to find in the darker corners of the Internet, not in the inner sanctum of Israel’s democracy.
REGARDLESS OF whether you believe that the government’s planned judicial reform is a long-overdue blessing or a nefarious curse, or something in between, there is simply no excuse for this kind of rhetoric. Dignified dissension is one thing, but dastardly demonization is downright dangerous.
But that does not seem to deter some of the leading opponents to the government’s plan. On February 13, former prime minister Ehud Olmert called in a televised interview for a “real war” to be fought. “War is not waged with speeches,” he said; “war is waged in a face-to-face battle, head-to-head and hand-to-hand, and that is what will happen here.”
Make no mistake. The public espousal of such hateful views has a trickle-down effect, stretching the boundaries of acceptable discourse beyond recognition and creating an environment in which people might easily go to extremes.
A small sampling of this was on display on February 20, when opposition protesters surrounded the home of Likud MK Tali Gotlieb and refused to allow even her young autistic daughter to leave.
Meanwhile, other demonstrators have been blocking major roads, waving banners that read “Netanyahu is a traitor” and physically slamming the glass partition in the Knesset gallery. Others have spoken of refusing to serve in the army, disobeying orders, and evading taxes. And twice, in the past 10 days, protesters have gone so far as to steal tanks from military memorial sites!
It sounds ridiculous, but there is nothing funny about it. This is sheer madness, and it is spinning out of control quickly.
Not surprisingly, the opposition’s harsh discourse and aberrant behavior have not gone unnoticed by Israel’s enemies.
In a televised address last week, Hezbollah thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah could barely contain his glee when describing Israel’s growing internal divide.
“In what terms do they speak? They talk about a civil war coming. They talk about the fact that there is no solution to the new challenges posed by the Netanyahu government except through bloodshed,” Nasrallah said, adding that he hopes that Israel “will not reach its 80th birthday.”
“In what terms do they speak? They talk about a civil war coming. They talk about the fact that there is no solution to the new challenges posed by the Netanyahu government except through bloodshed.”Hassan Nasrallah
Such remarks should at least give Israel’s opposition pause. By feverishly fanning the flames of domestic strife, they are feeding into the fantasies of our foes whose dream is to wipe both left-wing and right-wing Israelis off the map. It is time for them to cool down the discourse and cease with the incitement, threats and intimidation, which are contrary to the very ideals of democracy they say they aim to uphold.
Perhaps the great Benjamin Disraeli was correct when he said, “There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable, for in politics there is no honor.”
“There is no act of treachery or meanness of which a political party is not capable, for in politics there is no honor.”Benjamin Disraeli
True or not, I think it best to view his observation as descriptive rather than prescriptive.
After all, a country like Israel can ill afford a scandalously disloyal opposition. So let the opponents of judicial reform raise their voices, rally their people and press for what they believe to be right as much as they desire. But in doing so, they must never forget that decency and democracy can and should go hand in hand.
The writer served as deputy communications director under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.